Gabor Mate is a physician working in downtown eastside Vancouver - where misery and humanity are evident. He works primarily with drug addicts, people in a lot of pain and practices unconditional acceptance. His own background involves pain - he is a Hungarian Jew born during WWII. He is a writer of many books on ADHD, substance abuse, attachment and parenting, and stress and disease.
On November 30, 2011, I had the pleasure of hearing him speak in downtown Los Angeles. Here are some of my notes from his talk.
The roots of illness and the origins of suffering is grounded in mind-body science. There is a social basis of illness and well-being. There is a connection between stress and disease. You cannot just look at the individual when addressing wellness and disease.
Despite US self-perception as world elite, 50% of adults in the US suffer from chronic illness. Simply, this society makes people sick.
"Truths" and ideology reflect the interests of the dominant class. There are social and economic ramifications to satisfy status quo. It is easier to explain disease in genetics terms rather than in environmental terms.
Strong medications are used in this country to control behaviors. Foster children are given dangerous cocktails because their behaviors are difficult for adults to handle. We are trained in a narrow biological perspective.
50% of adolescents meet criteria for one mental health disorder or another. 50% of their time is spent on screen time - we deprive children of adult contact. Children need to hold on to something for a sense of connection (like the rhesus monkeys and the carpeted wire cages) - this has an impact on brain development and has an effect on society and context.
Sense of neighborhood and belonging is influenced by economic decisions. There is an impact on families and parent-child relationships - where jobs are and duration of commute time.
Emotional pain, emptiness and desperation to connect are often soothed by substances and behaviors.
Medical professionals cannot explain human nature and our deep need for connection and human contact. Human beings are not individualistic. When social needs are not satisfied, behaviors become destructive and distorted. Aggressive, competitive, individualistic, ruthlessness - are not our nature.
Experiment: Mice given electric shock showed increased stress hormone levels. Watching another mouse being shocked also increased stress hormone levels. Even mice are wired for empathy.
Looking for genes that cause cancer - trying to understand cancer by looking at individual cell vs. context (big picture, society and environment). Genes are not active agent in causing cancer - gene is not determinant (myth persists due to ideological purposes - doesn't threaten the way things are). Problem is in wiring versus in the system. African-Americans don't have the same cancer rates - must look at historical and current stressors (context).
It is nonsense to separate mind and body - like separating foot from leg. Evidence is clear that mind and body can't be separated. Unity of mind and body (ridiculous to have to prove it).
Fear changes physiology, immune system, cardiovascular system, hormonal system...
Stress causes physical effects. Uncertainty, lack of information, lack of self-expression and lack of control = stress. Control is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals. Opaque versus transparent information. High blood pressure is called hypertension - too much tension. We don't know how to help because we are not looking at people's lives. Stressing people causes disease.
75% of factors contributing to disease are not medical but factors that govern people's lives.
In what kind of society is anyone useless? A society that values people as economic units - exploiting or being exploited, otherwise nobodies. Elders vs. elderly - latter seen as troublesome and useless.
Western medicine separates mind and body, individual and society. We can only evolve in a cooperative society. Cooperation and contact built in. There is no genetic basis for individualism. Individuals die and cooperative groups evolve and survive. The isolated are more likely to fall sick and die of disease. Nurturing and loving environment is good for babies. Emotional and supportive contact is good for recovering elders.
Fundamental set of beliefs - if you challenge - seen as outside of pale - won't be taken seriously - emotions don't compute - emotions connect us to other people. Biopsychosocial assessments are rare in medical setting.
Evil fostered and encouraged for the sake of profit. Tender mercies of capitalism.
Looking at causes versus effects is due to the needs of the system - integrity, ethics, truth.
Society where the average maternity leave is 6 weeks. We are affected by our environment as soon as we have an environment - as soon as we are implanted in uterus. Importance of non-stressed mom. Stresses accrue in pregnancy and increase risk of behavior problems at age 3.
Delivery as mechanical process versus emotional process. Song sung to child as soon as possible after conception - welcomed to the world.
Stressing woman and developing infant. 30% of women are having C-section which is interfering with early bonding and it's long term effect. 15% receive breastfeeding (should be continued for one year).
Parental stress affects genetic functioning of adolescents (environment turns genes on/off).
Violence in our genes? Study in Australia - homes mattered more than genes. Environment and sensitivy (gene).
In child pornography investigation, officer was struck by children with dead eyes (accepting) vs. screaming
Increased adversity lead to increased risk for addiction. Rescue and protect kids or fall through the cracks - jail them because they turn to drugs to soothe the pain and sense of disconnection.
Person's experience shapes development of brain. Question fundamental values of this society. Social economic pressures impact on well being. Sense of community, cooperation, support, and belonging.
Illness is derived from our alienation...
...from nature (Marx)
...from work (meaningful activity, creative and expressive of who we are - what is inside us must come out - blocking the energy is making people sick)
...from other human beings (dog eat dog, competitive)
...from ourselves (deprived of ourselves)
What it takes to be healthy?
Individual and social question. Have you ever ignored a gut feeling and regretted it?
Aphasiacs are better able to tell inauthenticity and dishonesty (80-90% vs. our typical 50-50%) because they pay attention to gut feeling, body language, and tone versus language and content. With our gut feeling we see right through that.
Children are born with gut feeling. In order to be accepted by environment, we had to supress who we were. We found it safer to express what was expected, otherwise we invite conflict that we could not handle as children. We learned not to express our self. Then we wonder, why is life so dreary? Why am I trying to please?
Connect to self - do whatever it takes to reconnect to self
Connect to gut feeling - disconnected in order to survive. Advertising is based on being disconnected (promote consumerism vs. connections)
Connect to others - challenge what we're being told is not true. Resonate with the energies of others. Connect now and in the future.
Speak with sense of connection and compassion - it is more effective and powerful.
Notre Dame University - what cultures are best suited to care for children? Hunter-gatherer tribes (where shamanism predominates!!!)
Natives did not beat their kids and pilgrims were appalled. Kids are always carried everywhere with parent - no separation anxiety and develop security. When child cries it is immediately picked up and so develop a sense of trust and safety, not overwhelmed by stress hormones - my cries will be heard and responded to. Children not connected to nuclear parents but clan - community. These are the necessary conditions for healthy child development.
Mammalian brain can develop in later life. The development of new circuits is neuroplasticity. In problems of development, promote development instead of controlling symptoms. What is lacking in development? Plants require minerals and sunlight in order to grow. Parents are stressed and distracted. Children need to be provided essential developmental conditions. Address underlying problem instead of symptoms. We are an intricately connected system. Children are affected by the stresses of their parents.